Pain, both acute and chronic, afflicts millions of people around the world. Pain can be categorized in different ways, but one of the most common is nociceptive versus neuropathic pain.
Nociceptive pain is the result of activity in signaling pathways caused by tissue damage. Nociceptive pain is usually acute and develops in response to a specific situation, such as postsurgical pain and pain associated with sports injuries.It tends to disappear when the affected body part heals. An example of chronic nociceptive pain that lasts for more than 3–6 months is pain from osteoarthritis.
The body contains specialized nerve cells, which in turn have sensors known as nociceptors. They react to stimuli that can injure the body, such as extreme heat or cold, pressure, crushing and chemicals. These warning signals are then transmitted along the nervous system to the brain. This happens very quickly in real time, such as quickly pulling away hands after touching a hot oven, or not putting weight on an injured ankle.
Neuropathic pain is pain resulting from dysfunction in or direct damage to the nervous system. Neuropathic pain is almost always chronic. Chronic pain is a disabling disease that affects every aspect of the patient’s life, which includes the ability of the individual to work and engage in social and leisure activities. Neuropathic pain affects a total of approximately 7–8 percent of the adult population, which means about 600 million people worldwide. People with certain diseases, such as diabetes and HIV, suffer from neuropathic pain to a greater extent; about 25 and 35 percent of patients with these conditions, respectively, experience neuropathic pain.
Peripheral neuropathic pain results from various types of damage to the nerve fibers, such as toxic, traumatic, metabolic, infection-related, or compressional injuries. Common symptoms are painful tingling or itching that can be described as a stabbing or burning pain, including a sensation of getting an electric shock. Patients may also experience allodynia (pain caused by a stimulus that usually does not cause pain) or hyperalgesia (increased pain from a stimulus that normally provokes pain).
Examples of conditions associated with neuropathic pain are painful peripheral neuropathy caused by conditions such as diabetes, painful postherpetic neuralgia (shingles), neuropathic pain induced by chemotherapy and/or direct injury to the nerve.
Osteoarthritis (“wear and tear arthritis”) can affect all joints of the body, but most common are the knees, hips, back and shoulders. It was previously believed that this pain was due entirely to local inflammation. It is now known that other mechanisms are involved, and that the pain is primarily nociceptive in nature. Osteoarthritis pain also affects most aspects of the patient’s life; in addition to the severe pain itself, it limits mobility and the ability to work, while also making it difficult to engage in leisure activities and a social life. Physical exercise can only help to a limited extent, while existing drug treatments have only a small effect on the pain and should not be given to patients with conditions such as cardiovascular or lung disease. Therefore there is a great need for new effective drugs for the treatment of osteoarthritis pain.
An estimated 50 million adults in the US suffer from chronic pain that requires treatment. More Americans currently suffer from pain than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. The data from Europe show similar results and health and socioeconomic costs are estimated at 3–10 percent of gross domestic product in Europe. The neuropathic pain market is characterized by high unmet medical need in all indications and in all major markets, where only 20–30 percent of patients respond to existing treatments.
The patient population is expected to continue to grow, due to factors such as an aging population, an increased incidence of type 2 diabetes, and a growing number of cancer survivors who were previously treated with chemotherapy.
The global market for neuropathic pain was valued at about USD 11 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to USD 25 billion by 2027.
There is currently a major medical need for several different severe pain conditions. For example, about 70–80 percent of patients with neuropathic pain do not experience adequate pain relief with existing treatments. Because of the risk of abuse, overdose and secondary injuries, nowadays doctors avoid prescribing opiates as first-line treatment for pain. Despite this treatment problem they are still frequently used, for which reason the need for new non-opiate treatments is great.